When I first heard about the death of George Floyd and clicked on the video that was circulating worldwide, I was lost for words.
The first time I viewed the video, I couldn’t even bring myself to watch it until the end.
Despite several attempts since, I still haven’t been able to sit through the whole thing.
I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts since, attempt to understand the imperfect world we live in and how the tragic death of George Floyd was allowed to happen.
I’m still struggling to put down into words how I feel, because truthfully, I’m haven’t quite processed it. Had I written this post sooner, it would have likely been filled with anger and despair.
I stand alongside those who are appalled by the tragic way George Floyd died.
Race and Policing
“…the police are the public and that the public are the police…”
– The Peelian Principles, Sir Robert Peel, 1829
The quote above is an extract of principle 7 from the Peelian Principles, written almost two centuries ago which sets out the principles of an ethical Police Force.
It means that the relationship between the Police and public should be maintained at all times. The strength of the Police is in its ability to police with consent.
That consent comes from the knowledge that Police Officers should be impartial and accountable for their actions.
The police seek and preserve public favor, not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to the law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws; by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of society without regard to their race or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humor; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
– The Peelian Principles, Sir Robert Peel, 1829
I’ll return to some of these principles later.
It is thought one of the earliest black Police Officers in the UK was John Kent (1835-1836). I have heard of stories of what it was like to be an Officer in the 1980s and 1990s for BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic) Officers. I have always been speechless when I hear colleagues recount their experiences.
When Officers share these stories with me, it always ended with words to the effect: “that’s just how it was”. Like such behaviour were the norm and somehow became accepted but not acceptable.
I cannot begin to imagine what it was like for Constable Kent.
Fast forward 185 years to 2020 and where are we now?
The Murder of Stephen Lawrence
In the UK, it would be remiss to talk about race relations and the Police without referencing the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. It is also known as the Macpherson Report because the inquiry was chaired by Sir William Macpherson, a retired High Court judge.
It has been over 20 years since the report was published. It was ordered by the government after the murder of Stephen Lawrence in a racist attack in 1993.
Four years after his death, a public inquiry was ordered and it wasn’t until 1999 that the report published.
Contained within the 350 pages of that damning report were 70 recommendations for the Metropolitan Police (London) for which the inquiry found were incompetent, corrupt and institutionally racist.
Institutional Racism – “The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.”
– The Macpherson Report (1999), pg. 49
Stop and Search
According to the Home Office, black people are nine and a half times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched (between April 2018 and March 2019).
Based on what has been suggested as Home Office internal data; in the year to March 2018, Black people in England and Wales were 40 times more likely to be stopped.
Pause for a moment.
Let that last number sink in.
The official published stats from 2010 to 2018 were:
Use of Force
Between April 2018 to March 2019, the Home Office stats show that the Police were more likely to use force against people perceived as black compared to white. Of the use of force incidents recorded, 16% related to black people when they make up only 3.3% of the population in England and Wales (ONS Census 2011). This compares to 70% of incidents relating to white people when they make up 87.1% of the population.
Put another way, being black means someone is four times more likely to have Police force used against them than if they were white.
For the year ending 31st March 2019, Black individuals were over three times more likely to be arrested compared to people who self-identify as White in England and Wales.
The Ministry of Justice analysis for England and Wales found that young black people were nine times more likely to be jailed than white people.
The Lammy Review found that there was greater disproportionality in the number of black prisoners in England and Wales than in the US.
“Black people make up 3% of population in England and Wales and 12% of the prison population, compared with 13% and 35% respectively, in the US”
– MP David Lammy, 2017
The review also found that black men are 26% more likely than white men to be remanded in custody. They are also nearly 60% more likely to plead not guilty.
The Sentencing Council conducted a piece of research in 2020 which found that a black offender was 1.4 times more likely to receive an immediate custody sentence compared to a white offender for drugs related offences.
However, the same research also found that statistically, black offenders did not receive different custodial sentences compared to white offenders.
A 2016 study by the Ministry of Justice found that black men were 26% more likely to be denied bail and remanded into custody at Crown Court compared to white men.
Deaths in Custody
Over the past 10 years, 163 people have died in, or following Police custody in England and Wales.
Of all these deaths, 13 were black.
As a proportion of the of the black population in England and Wales, a black individual was twice as likely to die in Police custody.
However, as the BBC found, when the same figures are used to compare against the percentage of people arrested – a white individual was 25% more likely to die in custody than a black individual.
According to Government figures, since 2012/13, the number of hate crime reported to the Police has more than doubled to 103,379 offences in England and Wales. 76% of these relate to race hate crime.
“While increases in hate crime over the last five years have been mainly driven by improvements in crime recording by the police, there has been spikes in hate crime following certain events such as the EU Referendum and the terrorist attacks in 2017.”
– Home Office, Hate Crime 2018/19
No data was reported for hate crime against different ethnicities in 2018/19.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales for 2015/16 to 2017/18 found that adults in non-White ethnic groups were more likely to be victims of a racially motivated hate crime than White adults (for example, 1.1% of Asian and 0.6% of Black adults compared with 0.1% of White adults).
Percentage of adults aged 16 and over who were victims of racially-motivated hate crime and all CSEW crime, by ethnic group, 2015/16 to 2017/18:
The table above shows the people from a Black ethnic group were six times more likely to be a victim of race hate crime to people from a White ethnic group.
If the police are the public and the public are the police, then it is vital for the ethnicity of Police Officers in a given area to broadly represent the different communities they serve.
A 2020 study by the Police Foundation found that between 2007 and 2018, black police representation barely changed from 1,412 to 1,498 officers.
A gain of 86 officers in 11 years.
That’s 7.8 officers per year.
That’s a gain of 0.18 black officer per police force in England and Wales per year over that time period.
Some will still say at least that’s a positive number…
Data from the Government shows that at the end of March 2019, 93.1% of police officers were white and 1.2% were black.
Remember that black people represent 3.3% of the population in England and Wales (2011 Census).
Statistics; use and interpret with caution.
Numbers can only tell so much. There are inherent limits to the methodology and the data itself. They can also be subject to manipulation.
I report these numbers here without interpretation or comment on cause and effect.
I leave that to you.
Review after review and inquiry after inquiry. Some of the recommendations are accepted; some are ignored.
What is clear is that the relationship between the Police and the Black community remain just as strained as they ever were.
I take you back to Sir Robert Peel, where two of his other principles are relevant here:
Principle 4 – The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes, proportionately, to the necessity for the use of physical force and compulsion in achieving police objectives.
Principle 6 – Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.
The introduction of body worn video cameras in the UK and the US is a positive step forward with some evidence to find that it helps reduce the number of allegations against officers and build trust.
The question that is often asked by some: why are officers not required to have the camera on at all times during an interaction with members of the public? After all, it is being made compulsory for all bailiffs, so why not for the Police?
My colleagues and I still have a lot of work to do and a lot to learn in order to live up to all nine principles.
“Policing in this country is entirely imperfect. An imperfect response to an imperfect world. But the overwhelming majority of women and men who wear the uniform joined for the same simple reason.
They wanted to help people…”
– John Sutherland, retired Police Commander, UK
Up to now, I have for the most, kept my opinion out of this post. The next few sections represent my own personal view which will likely evolve as I continue to learn. These views have been formed as part of my experience living in the UK as a monitory, but also through discussions with friends and family over recent weeks.
I am speaking for myself. I am not speaking on behalf of any specific ethnic community or for British Policing.
I’d like to make a few comments about the stats above before we move on.
I have heard views from both ends of the spectrum and everything in between. At one end: the police are not only institutionally racist but that all officers are individually racist. At the other end: that black people are predisposed to criminal behaviour. Both views are absurd and comes from a place of prejudice.
Is British Policing and the Criminal Justice System still institutionally racist?
I would be very cautious to draw any conclusion solely on the stats above. The numbers make uncomfortable reading, and without doubt, the outcomes recorded paint a bleak picture.
I am not a Black Officer.
I am not a White Officer.
As a minority ethnic officer who grew up in a school where White students were in the minority; I continue to consider myself ignorant to the struggles Black people face, past and present.
What I mean is to have a real and genuine understanding of inter-generational injustice and inequality many Black people have faced and continue to face. The Black experience.
For this, I would need to live through it myself.
I sensed the dislike towards the Police all through secondary school from my peers. I would have been bullied had I voiced any ambition of being a Police Officer. I was young and didn’t think too much as to why that was. I just assumed this feeling was shared by everyone in society.
I studied hard and managed to get the grades to move to a sixth form grammar school. White students were in the majority here where I did not sense the same animosity towards the Police.
Growing up, I’ve suffered racism. Whilst I don’t intend to minimise such events against people of non-Black ethnicity, I can’t even begin to imagine the frustration many Black people feel.
The sad truth is that George Floyd is not the first and will not be the last.
How many other George Floyd’s has there been, where grieving families struggle for justice with no video evidence to help them?
How many other George Floyd’s has there been, where despite evidence, the system has failed to deliver justice?
It is important that I continue to listen, to learn.
Two things occurred recently:
First – I had a conversation with a friend not long ago where I blindly used the term “abolished slavery in the 19th century”.
He repeated the word “abolished” in a strange tone.
We continued talking for a while but it played on my mind.
Second – The conversation above reminded me of how I recall the history of British colonialism being taught in school – seen in a positive light – such as “spreading culture”, enlightenment, democracy and infrastructure whilst completely skipping the fact that the empire also involved; conquest, slavery and millions of people killed.
I give the two examples above to reinforce the need for me to educate and in some instances, re-educate myself.
It is my responsibility to be better informed on important issues like these.
I am taking the time to reflect. Listening is vital in this process.
Policing in the UK is very different to the US.
We aim to police with consent.
This is why the vast majority of Police Officers in the UK are not routinely armed with a lethal firearm.
Policing is a privilege.
In my 13 years as an Officer, I have not come across an overt display of racism by another Officer directed towards me, directed towards another Officer or directed towards a member of the public.
During this period of time, I have seen the Police, particularly my own constabulary change for the better and continuously learning to better serve the community; all communities.
Critics may say there is flaw in my reported experience because my mere presence could quickly quell any report writing room conversations which could have a negative racial undertone. Similarly, why would an Officer use excessive force on a BAME member of the public with me acting as a potential witness against them.
However, I can genuinely say that I’ve come across lazy Officers, dishonest Officers or even incompetent Officers, but I have not come across a racist one. I feel welcomed and have only positive things to say about my time in the Police.
Having said that, I do feel the pressure to work even harder than my White colleagues to ensure I demonstrate everything I achieve is on merit alone. I don’t know how much of this pressure comes from within myself or is external.
I recognise that my experience being on the ‘inside’ is different to the Black community.
There are currently over 120,000 Police Officers in England and Wales.
I am certain that there are racist Officers amongst us – they just hide it well; but I would like to think that they are few and far between.
It is everyone’s duty to report and challenge racial discrimination whenever we come across it.
Acquiescing is not an option.
Start those difficult conversations with family, friends and colleagues.
If there are differing opinions, don’t shy away from them. Delve deeper. Pick away at the different layers to understand why some people hold certain views.
I think it is the best way for a society to slowly change.
Being a passive non-racist is not enough.
All Lives Matter
I often hear this term reported and repeated as a response to ‘Black Lives Matter’ (BLM).
I think those who make it completely miss the point.
Of course all lives matter. It doesn’t matter what someone’s ethnicity is, all lives are equally important.
The reason why there is a need for society to be reminded that Black lives matter is because quite clearly, history and current events shows that Black lives do not matter; particularly in America.
The UK is not innocent.
Excusing or downplaying racism in the UK by comparing it against the US has been described as “200 years of moral posturing and historical amnesia“. I can’t put it any better myself.
I do not believe we can compare Policing in the UK against the US. The anger I can see in the UK is not just about the interaction between the Black community and the Police, but the existence of racial bias inherent in every aspect of our daily lives.
I’ve read lots of comments on news articles and social media by people who are actually angry and fed up with those who are speaking up. The audacity.
I’ve heard arguments from clearly irritated individuals who truly believe that people’s perception of racial discrimination is as a result of individuals not trying hard enough to make something for themselves. That they simply expect special treatment and that they should stop living in the past. That they are responsible for their own failings, come from broken homes and using racial discrimination as a convenient excuse. Classic victim blaming.
My personal opinion is that until we, as a nation, admit racial discrimination continues to be a deeply rooted issue in this country then real change cannot occur.
Our ambition and leadership appears to be severely lacking in this area.
Every now and again this important topic is thrust into the media’s attention due to an awful event for a brief period. Before long, it is forgotten about and the majority of society move on; leaving the minorities exactly where we were before.
The difficult conversations which need to take place don’t really go on long enough for mindsets to change. Those in positions of great influence no longer feel the pressure to reform and acknowledge past mistakes.
We return to where we were.
History is written by the victors
“…for history is written by the victors and framed according to the prejudices and bias existing on their side.”
– Missouri Sen. George Graham Vest, 1891
The headlines in the UK has been dominated by stories of statues being removed or vandalised.
Let me be clear – I do not condone unlawful behaviour.
It makes it even worse if such damage is done based on incorrect beliefs or disputed facts.
However, I understand how such acts have been born out of built up frustrations.
To have people who are known to hold racists views held up and celebrated is wholly inappropriate regardless of their other achievements. In doing so, it shows no thought to how many in the BAME community feel.
I have heard an argument which goes something like this: those individuals whose statues are celebrated cannot be judged by today’s values because the moral values were different during their time.
I believe philosophers call this moral relativism.
I’m definitely not a philosopher, nor a historian. In my simple mind, I can’t disagree with such an argument more.
Just because in the past, the majority of society believed racial discrimination is acceptable either out of ignorance or malice does not make it right. Take Winston Churchill for example. If I were able to speak to members of the Black community during Winston Churchill’s time, what would they say to me in relation to their treatment at the time?
Put this another way. If the issue is around something as fundamental as treating another fellow human being with respect and dignity through their words or actions; then whether it was 100 years ago or 300 years ago, these people should have known better.
(Note: from what I’ve read – his views were clearly unacceptable, even at that time)
History is important.
It has been suggested that in removing these statues we are editing or censoring our past. However, leaving out important details when we teach our children or not informing the public of their racist views on their plaques of achievement is utmost hypocrisy and dishonesty.
In a democratic society, if the majority wish to keep the statues, then this should be respected. But do so in a manner which does not brush aside their significant failings. In fact, highlight them in the same way we do about their achievements. Only then will we teach our children to learn from past mistakes.
If we do not have the courage to face up to these truths, then place them into storage to gather dust or into a museum.
I do feel that the movement has reached a tipping point where rather than uniting, it is becoming divisive. The focus on the statues whilst it may help to educate and provide a more balanced view of history, it has also provided an opportunity for some to re-enforce negative stereotypes due to the actions of the few.
To understand something doesn’t mean someone has to agree with it.
To empathise doesn’t require someone to apologise for mistakes made 300 hundred years ago.
This is not a political left versus right issue. It is simply about standing up to racism, inequality and injustice.
When we talk about overt hate crime and individual racism, then by the time someone reaches the legal age for the Police to do something about it, it’s too late.
I believe that racism is taught. It is nurtured within schools, our homes and with the people we choose to surround ourselves with.
It exists because people listen to a one-sided version of history.
Ignorance is a choice, but so is allowing future generations to remain so through the educational curriculum. Look at me; I’m in my 30s and have only just started to really learn about Black history and the British Empire (the unedited version).
Change starts in the home.
The conversations that do or don’t take place when children are young whilst their minds are developing help to shape how they think and how they they interact with others.
When we talk about stamping out systemic or institutional racism, I don’t know how to solve that. But I do know that staying silent is not the answer.
I know that the system is not perfect. To expect fair and just treatment for all regardless of ethnicity is not something which should be asked for. It does not need a perfect system for that.
As I have said; the UK and US are very different. This is not about British ethnic minorities “jumping on the bandwagon” and creating an issue where there isn’t any. We need to understand and highlight this issue better in a British context.
At work, I sense a resolute commitment to do much more both within our ranks and with our communities.
Yes, a tiny proportion of Officers behave badly; but if we tar all Officers with the same brush based on the actions of a few, it would only serve to harm the anti-racism movement.
Equally, with the protests that are happening around the country, a tiny minority are no more than criminal opportunists who not only vandalise, but were voilent towards Officers. Don’t let those individuals distract us from the important conversations.
Blue or Black. It matters not your occupation or ethnicity. If you stand against racial discrimination and support peaceful protesting, then I’m with you.
If you stand for unlawful violence against people or property, then I’m against you.
Maybe this time real change will happen.
Without hope, then there’s no point striving for better.
We must all be better.
Before I end this post, I will leave two things which I hope might at least cause a moment of reflection.
Please take care of yourself and each other.
(1) – Jane Elliott
(2) – Akala on Institutional Racism and Knife Crime
If you found that Akala clip thought-provoking – see also his views on racism and the British Empire.
(1) I have deliberately avoided the term ‘murder’ when referencing George Floyd. Whilst it may appear obvious for many after watching that video; I remain a serving Officer, so must allow criminal proceedings to take its course.
(2) The blog is predominantly about personal finance and I try my best to stay on topic. The long overdue conversations that are taking place including what is being said about my chosen vocation has compelled me to speak up and give my perspective.
- The Peelian Principles
- Stephen Lawrence Inquiry
- Government 2018/19 Stop and Search figures
- Full Fact – Stop and search in England and Wales
- Home Office Use of Force Statistics 2018/19
- ONS Census 2011
- Exploratory analysis of the youth secure estate by BAME groups
- The Lammy Review – An independent review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the Criminal Justice System
- Investigating the association between an offender’s sex and ethnicity and the sentence imposed at the Crown Court for drug offences
- Annual deaths during or following police contact statistics
- Home Office Hate Crime Statistics 2018/19
- Home Office Hate Crime Statistics 2017/18
- A DIVERSITY UPLIFT? Police workforce gender and ethnicity trends from 2007 to 2018 and prospects for the future
- Government Police Ethnicity Statistics
- Police, Camera, Evidence: London’s cluster randomised controlled trial of Body Worn Video
- IPCC position statement on body worn video
- College of Policing – Body Worn Video
- Big Brother Watch Report 2017
- London Policing Ethics Panel – Body Worn Video
- Government definition of Policing by consent
- Hit list of statues ‘Topple the Racists’ protesters want bringing down
- Moral Relativism
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